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What is the origin of this term?

How did it come about that "86" means the kitchen has run out of something; take it off the menu?

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  1. Quote: "This seems to be the most widely-accepted explanation,
    and may even have some proof to it.
    Ribeye steak
    (sometimes other items are used,
    depending on which story you read)
    was item number 86 at Delmonico's.
    On one, or more, occasions, they ran out of item "86",
    which somehow became shorthand for running out of anything."
    Now someone just needs to find an old Delmonico's menu.

    1. I come from a military family. I was told the term came from the code to get rid of something ( like parts). AT -6 actually not 86. We always used that term in my house but it wasn't so common among civilians.

      4 Replies
      1. re: sedimental

        I know that, in the navy, to "deep six" something is to get rid of or sink it.

        1. re: mucho gordo

          The military is full of codes, abbreviations and terminology. Sometimes they make their way into everyday civilian vocabulary. My bet is that it came from the AT (allowance type codes) from the Navy.

          Maybe it just came together when an e-fuzzy went AWOL and section 8'ed in a local bar and was 86'd. That's where I think it came from ;)

          1. re: mucho gordo

            "Deep six" derives from needing at least six fathoms of depth to dump something overboard.

        2. Wikipedia has a few stories about the origin... the one I heard first was that is was the address to Chumley's, a noted speakeasy in NYC located at 86 Beford St.

          Info here:
          The 2006 book "The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York" by author Jef Klein tells the story that, when the police would very kindly call ahead before a [prohibition-era] raid, they'd tell the bartender to '86' his customers, meaning they should scram out the 86 Bedford door, while the police would come to the Pamela Court entrance.

          My guess is any or all of these could be true.

          1. Whatever the origin of the use the term in that sense, it's confusing, because the original meaning, long in widespread use, is to indicate that a person is to be refused service at a bar. Kitchens ought to have their own jargon for running out of something, in my opinion.

            Servers in restaurants never (in my experience) tell a customer that an item is 86'd; they will say "we're out of that." But any customer in a bar knows the meaning of "so-and-so has been 86'd."

            2 Replies
            1. re: GH1618

              That's interesting. I've never heard the phrase in relation to a bar patron before, and yes, I've closed a bar or two. I have heard it used in reference to food before, but not from the serving staff while dining. More than likely from friends in the service industry or in tv/film.

              1. re: GH1618

                I've mostly heard it in terms of being barred from a casino. Say for a suspected card counter or someone who is winning more at the tables than the casino would like.

                I have never heard it used in a restaurant kitchen. We always just said, we were out of something.

              2. Not for nothing that Maxwell Smart was known as Agent 86.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Steve

                  Ha! Never put those two together before; and I'm an ex-waiter and Get Smart fan. Thanks Steve!

                2. I've been lead to beleive it came from the 86th article of War, total annailation, no more. I've never researched it. I know there is an h in annailation but I don't feel like researching that either!

                  3 Replies
                      1. re: sunshine842

                        If I remember correctly, it's from the latin "nihil", which means "nothing".

                    1. All these answers are so interesting. I'd heard it was Cockney rhyming slang -- "Eighty-six" for "Nix", like "Uncle Bert" for "Shirt" and "Oxford Scholar" for "Dollar".

                      1. I've only heard of 86 referring to having a customer removed and prohibited from returning. Various sources have conjectured on the origins and no one had a definitive answer. I would imagine if a menu item is 86'd it has been removed from the menu, quite possibly permanently. IE a manager telling a chef that the orange roughie has been 86'd as it is a non sustainable catch.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                          I've heard it "in regular life", too -- the new advertising campaign has been 86'd

                        2. Yes, iluvcookies had it right- the term originated at Lord Chumley's. My granddad was part owner of the place decades ago and occasionally got stories firsthand from folks who'd been there during Prohibition.

                          The original sense of it was a selective 'Get 'em outta the bar.' When they'd receive word that a raid was imminent, they'd have the regulars "86 it" onto Bedford St, leaving behind those who weren't in the know to be hauled in and fined, while the bartender pulled a lever dumping the liquor shelf behind the bar through a hidden hatch into the sewer below, so there was never any stock on hand to be found. The place was often open again within hours. What isn't so widely known is that the speakeasy itself acted as a sort of cover for radical political discussions that were often happening up on the second floor.

                          The term has long since taken on meaning as a transitive verb too, and broadened in the sense that something which has been 86'ed has been taken off the menu for now or for good, and we say someone who's been banned from an establishment has been 86ed.

                          This much I know. But that's not to say that the expression couldn't have evolved independently elsewhere, also as luvcookies pointed out. Stranger things have happened.